Climate change: 'Effective strategy' for farmers if Moneypoint goes biomass
A new report suggests that converting Moneypoint power station to sustainable biomass would be an 'effective strategy' for Irish agriculture to fight climate change.

Converting Moneypoint coal-fired power station to sustainable biomass by converting 8% of Irish agricultural land to energy crops would offer a “more stable income for farmers and forestry”, according to a new report commissioned by the anti-wind group RethinkPylons.

The group commissioned UK-based BW Energy to carry out a report called 'Unlocking Ireland’s biomass potential - converting Moneypoint coal fired power station to sustainable biomass'.

If Moneypoint were to convert, energy crops (especially miscanthus) and residue materials such as straw and grain husks could be used as the main source of ‘‘green energy’’, as well as forestry thinnings, the report suggests.

According to BW Energy, large amounts of grassland suitable for energy crops are underutilised in Ireland and could be converted, with "minimal effect on food or feed production".

In comparing the profitability of growing perennial energy crops to different traditional farming sectors, Teagasc found it to be more economically attractive compared with less profitable beef production.

“In the long term, fixed price contracts for energy crops and forestry offer more stable income than more volatile, traditional sectors,” the report says, and converting the power station to biomass produced by Irish farmers would offer “a credible, economically effective strategy” for Irish agriculture to fight climate change.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), two million hectares of Irish agricultural land are suitable for energy crops such as miscanthus or short-rotation crop willow. The SEAI’s suitability mapping tool was then used to estimate that up to 250,000ha of grassland could be converted to energy crops without a significant effect on food or feed production.

Benefits for farmers

In comparing the profitability of growing perennial energy crops to different traditional farming sectors, Teagasc found it to be more economically attractive compared with less profitable beef production.

“A thriving energy crop sector would sustain and diversify rural farm income,” Teagasc said in its 2014 Tillage Sector Development Plan.

Additional advantages of energy crop production over and above higher profitability (compared with beef-rearing) were also identified by Teagasc, including offsetting national greenhouse gas emissions, increased rural employment in the biomass supply chain, reduced dependence on fossil fuels and significant environmental benefits, including increased biodiversity of farmland, reduced flood impact, improved water quality and better sludge management.

Price competitive

The report says that if the Irish sustainable biomass market is to develop at scale, it needs to be price competitive, with potential pellet imports costing around €7.70/GJ (gigajoule) for delivery at Moneypoint.

A study by UCD and Teagasc estimated that energy crop biomass pellets (primarily miscanthus) could be produced and delivered in Ireland for €7/GJ.

Forestry

Other sources of Irish sustainable biomass such as forestry thinnings and other forestry residues could, according to the SEAI, cost as little as €5/GJ based on Teagasc and COFORD trials.

“This would require Irish foresters to adopt established Nordic whole tree harvesting techniques to utilise a larger proportion of the felled timber. This represents a 45% cost reduction compared to the current shortwood harvesting approach used in Ireland,” the report says.

Ireland has the best growing climate for forestry in Europe with substantial scope to expand due to low forest cover, BW energy says.

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